The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

William Stafford’s “For the Grave of Daniel Boone” is composed of twenty-five lines, in four unrhymed stanzas of six lines each and a final one-line stanza. A speaker, perhaps Stafford himself, recalls the Kentucky pioneer who explored the American frontier westward even to the Yellowstone country, broadening the borders of a fledgling nation. The poem addresses not so much a personal memory of the man but rather the heritage of his image and his relentless perseverance, his “going on.” It likewise honors him as one of the country’s spiritual forefathers, a man who embodied the desire to explore and embrace the land.

In the first stanza, “he” clearly refers to Boone, the frontiersman who makes a new wilderness his home. The farther west he travels, “the farther home grew,” but his home does not grow more distant from him as much as it grows with him, enlarging. As Boone journeys beyond the Mississippi River and enters a different landscape, one carpeted with flowers, Kentucky becomes merely a single room of his expanding home, this nation.

Then, “[l]eaving the snakeskin of place after place,” just as a snake sheds and abandons its old skin, Boone presses on through forests, grasslands, and the world of nature. His vision is so steady, his marksmanship so true, that his image is preserved into the present, a model or “story-picture” from which children can learn and be inspired. The third stanza...

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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Stafford is basically an intuitive poet who denied using any conscious literary technique, choosing instead to come at his poetry by means of sound and emotion. Witness the power of the poem’s last two lines, which consist only of plain, one-syllable words. He seldom employs strict form, writing here in a loose, accentual meter, using four (or occasionally three) stressed syllables in each line but varying the number of unstressed syllables per line from three to seven. These lines are essentially breath lines, shaped by the natural rhythm of respiration. Mistrusting rigid intellectual patterns or formulas, Stafford prefers to be guided by impulse. In a 1984 interview he admitted, “I like syncopated rhythmsbroken rhythms, things that start and stop, vagrant impulses, rather than marching rhythms.” Perhaps this mistrust is one reason why he seldom uses traditional rhyme. He declared, famously, “For me, all sounds rhyme, sort of.”

In “For the Grave of Daniel Boone” Stafford does employ slant or near rhyme in stanzas 3 and 4: “quail” and “kill”; “time,” “palm,” and “home.” Still, the primacy of sound remains, for he strongly relies on the repetition of words (“The fartherthe farther” in line 1, “deepening home” in the first and fifth stanzas) or repeated vowel and consonant sounds (“snakeskin. . . place”). All the sounds within a poem, he believes, depend on and influence each other.

Stafford seems to...

(The entire section is 439 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Andrews, Tom, ed. On William Stafford: The Worth of Local Things. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993.

Holden, Jonathan. The Mark to Turn. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1976.

Kitchen, Judith. Writing the World: Understanding William Stafford. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1999.

Pinsker, Sanford. “William Stafford: ’The Real Things We Live By.’” In Three Pacific Northwest Poets. Boston: Twayne, 1987.

Stafford, Kim. Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford. St. Paul, Minn.: Graywolf Press, 2002.

Stitt, Peter. “William Stafford’s Wilderness Quest.” In The World: Hieroglyphic Beauty: Five American Poets. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985.